Frequently Asked Questions

How will the Research Data Centres benefit Canadians?

Canada is going through a period of rapid social change. Decision makers, both inside and outside government need an up-to-date and in-depth understanding of Canadian society to help them not only to respond to today's needs, but to anticipate tomorrow's as well.

A number of Statistics Canada's longitudinal surveys have already made important contributions to policy debate in this country. With increased and improved research, many of the surveys promise to deliver even more insight on issues surrounding children, youth, a dynamic economy, health and health care, and Aboriginal peoples issues that are important to all.

What is being done to assure confidentiality and security of data?

The university-based centres are, essentially, extensions of Statistics Canada offices, with a full-time Statistics Canada employee at each site to screen the results that will be released and ensure compliance with confidentiality policies and procedures. The centres operate under the same security provisions as any other Statistics Canada offices, including the use of physical access controls and stand-alone computer network linked only to Statistics Canada.

Why were the RDCs established at universities?

The establishment of the Research Data Centres (RDCs) is part of an initiative to help strengthen the country's social research capacity and to support the policy research community.

Statistics Canada has developed a number of major surveys that offer a rich source of information for analyzing social issues. However, one of the difficulties has been to find a way to produce public-use microdata files that contain sufficient detail for researchers, while safeguarding the privacy of respondents. This issue has probably reduced the amount of analysis being conducted by the broader policy research community. In addition, a task force reported to Statistics Canada and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) in January 1998 that there were further barriers to producing policy-relevant research in this country:

  • a lack of trained researchers in the field of quantitative analysis;
  • a lack of easy access to detailed microdata collected by Statistics Canada; and
  • a lack of effective linkages between researchers and those involved in public policy development.

The Research Data Centres are expressly designed to overcome these obstacles, by making it possible to do essential social research, while assuring the security of anonymized data.

What is the Federal Research Data Centre?

The Federal Research Data Centre (FRDC) was established in Ottawa, to service researchers from the federal departments. These researchers will have access to microdata collected by STC.

What are the access procedures for government agencies planning to provide statistical support for policy development?

As of August 2005, an additional mechanism is offered to facilitate research projects focusing on statistical support for policy development. All requests are assessed by a provincial or territorial representative on the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Consultative Council on Statistical Policy. The request for access is submitted to the Program Manager of Statistics Canada's Research Data Centre Program who coordinates a review of the proposal by Statistics Canada subject matter experts. The review is completed within 10 working days. If it is determined that Statistics Canada can quickly and efficiently carry out the work, the Departmental representative will be informed of this and of the associated cost to complete the work. However, if Statistics Canada does not have the resources to complete the work quickly and efficiently, the provincial/territorial employee identified is eligible to become a “deemed” Statistics Canada employee, under Section 10 of the Statistics Act, for purposes of completing the work. The work conducted in the RDC is subject to standard operational procedures. More details on this process can be obtained in the application process and guidelines page.

What is a branch Research Data Centre?

A branch RDC is a laboratory that offers access to Statistics Canada detailed micro-data and presents the same characteristics of security as are required in all the RDCs. The branch RDC can reduce the need for travelling. It also facilitates the cooperation among researchers from the same region or province that are located in different cities.

Compared to a regular RDC, a branch has fewer workstations, is open part-time (between 15 and 25 hours a week) and typically provides only the most commonly used statistical software. Branches are staffed with part-time statistical assistants, but there is no Statistics Canada RDC Analyst on site.

Another limitation of a branch is that research results and computer programs are not vetted locally. These outputs are securely transferred to the main RDC associated with the branch, using a Wide Area Network. In the main RDC, the Statistics Canada Analyst will control the output before releasing the information to the researchers. The Analyst in the main RDC is also providing remote assistance on questions related to survey content.

Do RDCs carry any personally identifiable information about respondents?

No. All data sets have been stripped of personal details-such as names, addresses and phone numbers-that could be used to identify particular individuals.

What prevents a researcher from removing data from an RDC?

Researchers whose projects are approved will be subject to a security check before being sworn in under the Statistics Act as 'deemed employees.' Deemed employees are subject to all the conditions and penalties of regular Statistics Canada employees, including fines and/or imprisonment for breach of confidentiality. In addition, all results to be physically removed from secure areas will be carefully screened to ensure confidentiality of the data is protected.

Which researchers will be given access to data?

To be granted access to the data housed in the RDCs, researchers will be required to submit a project proposal to an adjudicating committee operating under the auspices of SSHRC and Statistics Canada. Details regarding project proposals can be found on the application process and guidelines page. The approval of proposals will be based on the merit of the research project and on the need to access detailed data. Researchers from federal departments, please refer to the Federal Research Data Centre (FRDC) page.

Researchers from institutions other than the host universities are welcome to submit proposals to access the Research Data Centres (refer to the application process and guidelines). Furthermore, researchers who are conducting publicly available research on a not-for-profit basis at universities, research institutes, government agencies and other public research organizations may also submit proposals.

How will researchers be selected, and how will their projects be assessed?

Researchers wishing access to the anonymized microdata will submit proposals to a review committee operating under the auspices of SSHRC and Statistics Canada. The committee will evaluate the proposals, based primarily on the research merit of the proposal, as well as the need to access detailed data and the capacity of the centre.

The approval of proposals will be based on:

  • scientific merit and viability of the proposed research;
  • relevance of the methods to be applied—the data to be analyzed;
  • demonstrated need for access to detailed microdata; and
  • expertise and ability of the researchers to carry out the proposed research as illustrated in the CVs and list of contributions.

Finally, the researcher must also agree to produce a publicly available report that falls within Statistics Canada's mandate.

Who sits on the review committee?

The review committee will consist of two academic peers and a Statistics Canada Analyst.

What if I am required to have an ethics review for the use of Statistics Canada microdata in the RDC?

Many universities have decided that secondary analysis, using Statistics Canada data, does not require an ethics review. However, in some universities an ethics review is necessary. In addition, some journals, especially in the medical fields, require an ethics review in order for the article to be published in the journal. Should a researcher find that an ethics review for his/her RDC research is necessary, the document “Mitigation of Risk to Respondents of Statistics Canada's Surveys” has been prepared to outline the policies and procedures that Statistics Canada has established to mitigate the risk to respondents of Statistics Canada's surveys. This document has been reviewed by the RDC Program Manager and Information Management Division at Statistics Canada. It is hoped that the information provided will be of assistance should an ethics review be required.

What data are available to researchers through the RDC program?

Some of the most commonly used surveys are:

  • Aboriginal Peoples Survey (APS)
  • Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS)
  • Ethnic Diversity Survey (EDS)
  • General Social Survey (GSS)
  • Health Services Access Survey (HSAS)
  • Longitudinal Survey of Immigrants to Canada (LSIC)
  • National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth (NLSCY)
  • National Graduates Survey (NGS)
  • National Population Health Survey (NPHS)
  • Participation and Activity Limitation Survey (PALS)
  • Survey of Approaches to Educational Planning (SAEP)
  • Survey of Household Spending (SHS)
  • Survey of Labour and Income Dynamics (SLID)
  • Workplace and Employee Survey (WES)
  • Youth in Transition Survey (YITS)

For additional sources of data please refer to Statistics Canada Surveys and statistical programs by subject.

Is it possible to access other surveys that are not mentioned on the website?

The centres host many household or population data for approved project proposals. Although Statistics Canada has the right to give or deny access to any of its data files, researchers can explore alternative methods of access.

What software is available to researchers in an RDC?

Researchers should be aware that software availability may differ across RDCs due to factors such as budgetary constraints and usage. Additionally, not all software programs are approved for use in the RDCs. Researchers should be in contact with their RDC Analyst to determine if their specific software needs can be met.

If my proposal was approved, does that mean the software that I listed on my proposal was also approved and in the RDC?

No, the approval of the feasibility of the data is not also an approval for the software requested in the research proposal. Please check with your local RDC Analyst to determine the availability of particular software packages and to discuss possible alternatives. Not all software programs are available at each centre, but they can be requested. If the software is not already on the RDC approved software list then an exception request can be submitted.

Please see the following two FAQ's for more information on this process:

What happens if I require software that is not available in the RDCs?

In the event that a particular software program is not available in the RDCs, the researcher may submit a request to the Analyst with information about the software (e.g., the company that produces the software, a link to the technical specifications of the software, a description of how it will be used for the project, and a rationale for why this particular software is needed over and above what is already provided in the RDC). This request will be evaluated by the Statistics Canada IT Security team for risks to the RDC Network, and a decision will be made regarding its use in the RDCs.

What will happen to the research done at the centres?

Researchers will produce research products. The products will report on the quantitative analysis and results. Refer to the Final Products section of the Application Process and Guidelines.

Who is funding the research centres?

Initial infrastructure costs for six of the centres were funded by the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, an independent corporation established by the federal government in 1997 to strengthen Canadian capability for research. Costs for the remaining centres were covered by other arrangements made by the host universities.

The cost of running a data centre includes funding for space, staff, and regular updating and replacement of computer hardware and software. Year-to-year operating costs are covered by a combination of:

  • university contributions in cash or in kind,
  • base grants from SSHRC,
  • user fees paid by researchers; and
  • contributions by other partners.

The FRDC operates entirely on a cost recovery basis.

Can I access or can I apply for more than one centre?

Researchers may access more than one RDC for a given project. However, one RDC must be designated the primary research location.

Is it possible to have funding for my project?

The RDC program is not a funding program. Researchers should look to other agencies for sources of funding such as the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). It is assumed that projects to be conducted in the RDCs are fully funded at the time of submission.

Why do I have to submit a project proposal?

Legally, a project proposal is a requirement of Statistics Canada to be able to give researchers access to its data. To become a deemed employee, an individual must enter into a contract with Statistics Canada and deliver an agreed-upon product or service in exchange for the access. The definition of the product and the boundaries of the work must be described in a proposal, which is then attached to the contract as an appendix.

Academically, to prepare a proposal and to submit it for peer review is a common practice in the social sciences disciplines.

Ethically, the proposal represents a reassurance to Statistics Canada's respondents that their information will only be used for legitimate purposes by researchers aimed at understanding and improving social and economic conditions in Canada. A proposal is necessary in order to honour this commitment.

Will there be more centres opening in other universities?

Universities wishing to establish an RDC on site can find out how to do so from the Canadian Research Data Centre Network (CRDCN) site. Except in exceptional circumstances, new research data access facilities will begin as Branch RDCs, attached to an existing RDC, and remain as such until the level of activity warrants consideration as a full Centre. The network remains open to applications for additional RDCs.

Why do researchers need to sign a contract with Statistics Canada?

This is required by the Statistics Act. Access to the anonymized microdata available in the RDCs can only be given to Statistics Canada employees or deemed employees, employees who are under contract to Statistics Canada.

What does the expression "deemed employee" mean?

The federal Statistics Act allows Statistics Canada to use the services of individuals (persons, incorporated contractors, public servants) to do work for Statistics Canada without being an employee in the general sense of the term. The Act refers to these individuals as "deemed to be a person employed under this Act", hence the expression "deemed employee".

In short, a deemed employee is someone who is providing a specific service which, in most cases, involves having access to confidential information for statistical purposes, including the anonymized microdata available in the RDCs. In performing this service, the person has the same obligations of a Statistics Canada employee to keep identifiable information confidential.

What provisions of the Statistics Act allow for the hiring of deemed employees?

Section 5 addresses the hiring of "deemed employees" from federal government departments, individuals and consultants while section 10 allows for the hiring of provincial public servants.

How does one become a deemed employee?

Statistics Canada will hire a person as a deemed employee if there is a specific service that Statistics Canada requires from the person. The service can take different forms from data analysis to data validation, to name a couple of examples. Once it has been decided that someone should be hired as a deemed employee, Statistics Canada will enters into an agreement with either the individual or the organization he/she represents.

Prior to having access to any confidential information, the individual who will become a deemed employee has to:

  • Be granted "Reliability Status" following a security check;
  • Be identified in an agreement under which they are granted access to specific confidential information;
  • Take the Oath of Office, as required by section 6 of the Statistics Act;
  • Acknowledge in writing that they have read, understood and will comply with the security requirements listed in the appendix of the agreement, relevant Statistics Canada policies as well as this document;
  • Declare in writing that they do not have any conflict of interest as described in the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Service.

What information can a deemed employee access?

The agreement will specifically indicate the confidential information required for the work that a deemed employee performs. As is the case with employees of Statistics Canada, taking the Oath of Secrecy does not give a deemed employee access to all information held by Statistics Canada: access to confidential information is strictly on a need-to-know-basis.

What are the responsibilities of a deemed employee?

The responsibilities of a deemed employee are similar to those of an employee of Statistics Canada in the sense that a person must protect the confidentiality of any identifiable information as per subsection 17(1) of the Statistics Act and that the information can only be used for the purposes described in the agreement.

Keeping the information confidential means that a deemed employee cannot discuss the information with unauthorized persons and it must be protected at all times (i.e., it cannot be removed from Statistics Canada premises; it cannot be sent via email on an unsecured network, it has to be locked up when not in use and it has to be destroyed in a secure manner).

Who are the authorized persons deemed employees can discuss the information with?

They would include employees of Statistics Canada who are also entitled to access the same information due to the nature of their work. Potentially it could also include other deemed employees who are also named in an agreement and are allowed to discuss the information with other deemed employees.

What if the current employer of a deemed employee wants to discuss the project which could involve discussing confidential information?

The person in question must also be a deemed employee and be authorized to have access to the same information. Any discussion involving confidential information with an unauthorized person would constitute a breach of the Statistics Act as well as the terms of the agreement.

If a deemed employee believe that there is a potential for a breach, it should be discussed with the deemed employee's Statistics Canada contact for clarification.

What happens if a deemed employee does something that is prohibited under the Statistics Act?

Because all deemed employees take the Oath of Secrecy, as do all employees of Statistics Canada, they must uphold the confidentiality provisions of the Statistics Act or be liable to prosecution and the penalties outlined in the Act: a fine of up to $1000 and/or a jail term of up to six months.

What is confidential information?

Any responses to a survey or any information from other sources about a person, business or organization, held by Statistics Canada - with or without name or other identifying information - and any aggregation of that information that could directly or indirectly identify a person, business or organization. The anonymized microdata files available in the RDC are considered confidential information.

What if I am not sure if aggregated information is confidential?

Information, even if it has been aggregated, could still be considered confidential if an individual, a business or an organization can still be identified. If a deemed employee is not certain on the status of information, i.e. whether it is confidential or not, they should talk to the Statistics Canada contact.

How long is the Oath of Secrecy valid for?

The Oath of Secrecy lasts forever. In other words, even after a deemed employee has completed the work, they can never divulge any of the confidential information accessed as a deemed employee.

While the Oath of Secrecy does not expire, a researcher will be asked to reaffirm the Oath every 10 years if they continue to work as a deemed employee of Statistics Canada.

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